Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice - PS3

Developer Nippon Ichi have given us a host of quirky, fun and deep gameplay experiences in recent years - Phantom Brave, La Pucelle: Tactics, Atelier Iris, Makai Kingdom and Soul Nomad are all excellent titles, but their Disgaea series is the pinnacle of their achievements. Now their most acclaimed franchise is back in the shape of Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice on PS3.

The game's story - as you would expect from Nippon Ichi - is as off the wall as ever. The central character is Mao, the son of the Netherworld's Overlord. Mao is out to destroy his father, not because of some deep and meaningful struggle between the two, but because Mao's father has destroyed his son's videogame collection. See, told you it was a bit weird.

Disgaea is a turn-based strategy RPG, similar to games such as Final Fantasy Tactics. Although Disgaea 3 has some new ideas, it's not radically different from the series' previous outings, so veterans will be instantly familiar with the game mechanics. New players need not despair, though, as this is definitely easier to get into than the first two games.

The thing that sets Disgaea apart from other strategy RPGs is its incredible depth. You can rattle through the story in roughly 25 hours or so, however, if you want it to, Disgaea could conceivably last you forever.

Why? Well let me explain. First off, it is possible to level every character to lvl 9999. Just getting one character to that level will take hundreds of hours, never mind an almost limitless cast at your disposal. The second gameplay option that could suck away days of your life is the Item World.

Every single item in Disgaea 3 can be entered - from packets of mint gum to legendary swords. Once in an item, you have to battle your way through dozens of randomly generated floors. This increases the item's stats, and is the best way to obtain the strongest items in the game. Add to this heady brew the option to reincarnate your levelled up characters as new job classes (starting back at level one) you start to realise the insane amount of depth Disgaea has. It's mind-boggling.

Most players, myself included, have no desire (or the time) to explore every nook and cranny of the game. I suspect most players will have a mess around with character classes, getting them to a suitably sensible level. Only the hardcore will spend forever playing.

Unlike standard RPGs, which tend to give players a set team to adventure with, Nippon Ichi have once again given you full control of your companions. You start with a small team, but you can create new characters and choose their classes. Do you fancy having a long-range specialist on your side, who prefers bows to guns? How about creating a second healer for when the going gets tough? Maybe you'd like a Mage who can wield fire rather than the power of nature. Or maybe you just want a team made out of axe-wielding warriors...the choice is completely up to you.

Only 10 characters can be on the battlefield at any one time, but it really pays to have a good selection of classes at your disposal.

Along with the return of this robust character customisation option, Geo Blocks also make a welcome return in Disgaea 3. These objects add status effects to the isometric battlefield. Standing on certain colours grants your party bonuses such as added experience points or a defensive boost. However, some blocks and colours give your enemies positive effects instead. Blocks can also be picked up and thrown, or even destroyed, so careful consideration must be given when you are starting your battle.

While it's great to see another Disgaea game, it's slightly disappointing that Nippon Ichi have kept the look of the game almost exactly the same as the PS2 versions. While the menu screens and background environments have been given a proper hi-def makeover, the character sprites remain low-res. They still exude charm and personality, but it's a real shame Nippon Ichi haven't gone the whole hog and polished up the entire game.

Music is just as weird as the storyline, with the development team choosing bright, cheery bubblegum pop rather than anything too serious. However, the music does tend to grate after a few hours.

Nippon Ichi have always done a great job when it comes to voice acting, and they've delivered once again. Although some accents are a little annoying, it's great to hear so much attention given to this aspect of the game. And if it all gets a bit too much for you, you can always change the voices back to Japanese.

Disgaea's not everyone's cup of Earl Grey, and it is easy to be initially overwhelmed by the amount of stats and items at your disposal. But if you're tired of traditional RPGs, Disgaea is certainly worth a look.

I'm playing the North American version, but Square Enix announced they will be releasing Disgaea 3 across Europe in early 2009, which is fantastic news. If you're new to the series and can't import or simply want to wait for its UK release, I'd recommend picking up a cheap copy of Disgaea 2 on PS2 to give you a flavour of the series.

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